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THE PUNK ROCK MOVIE, 1978
Movie Review

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THE PUNK ROCK MOVIE MOVIE POSTER
THE PUNK ROCK MOVIE, 1978
Movie Reviews

Directed by Don Letts
Starring: The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees
Review by Conor Duffy



SYNOPSIS:

Documentary on the British punk scene as it expanded in 1977 and ‘78.

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REVIEW:

In the drab, grey landscape of 1970s Britain, amid union strikes, recession and a three day work week, a vibrant movement flowered in London. Inspired by the shocking bravado of the New York Dolls, the raw power of Iggy and the Stooges and the simple three chord song structure of the Ramones, a small but vocal group of teenagers and young adults came together to create British punk. Though punk rock was already gestating in New York City’s Bowery, its British offspring was a far more aggressive and ramshackle affair. All you needed, it seemed, was a guitar and three chords, and you too could form a punk band.

Realising that punks needed a place where they could meet and play on a regular basis, promoter Andy Czezowski opened The Roxy. The first house DJ of the Roxy was Don Letts, the owner of clothes store and popular punk hangout Acme Attractions. Letts wasn’t technically a punk; the son of Jamaican immigrants, he was deeply fond of reggae and is considered responsible for bringing together punk and reggae music through his sets at the nightclub. Thanks to the proceeds of his store and DJ gigs, Letts was able to buy a Super 8mm camera and began filming punk bands that played at the Roxy, including The Clash, The Slits, The Heartbreakers and many more of the scene’s leading lights.

This live footage, as well as film shot on the road as Letts travelled on tour with The Clash and The Slits, formed the basis of The Punk Rock Movie. Letts’ first film (of any description), it is as rough and ready as the bands it presents. Lacking any narrative thread, the film’s goal is simply to document a period of time, when dozens of new bands were cropping up on a weekly basis - most awful, but some incredible. It is an insight into the evolution of a musical scene, as a few disjointed groups living in London squats slowly found each other and started exchanging ideas. These groups later travelled to other cities, sparking other scenes and even more bands. Inside the Roxy there’s electricity in the air as punks seek to shock and entertain.

The attraction for most viewers will be the live shows, which are a collection of rambunctious sets by a motley group of performers. The usual suspects - the Pistols, Billy Idol, Siouxsie & the Banshees - are all present and correct, but what really makes The Punk Rock Movie stand out is the large number of musicians you might not be so familiar with, like Wayne County, the transsexual house DJ of Max’s Kansas City in New York; Slaughter and the Dogs, whose front man is shown covered in flour that fills the air as he stalks around the stage; and Eater, an aggressive outfit of high school boys. While the songs might sound the same, what strikes the viewer is the theatricality surrounding so many bands. Each concert is truly a performance, a combination of roughly formed music and cheap street theatre, designed to antagonise and enthral the audience.

As well as providing a wealth of live music, Letts also captures some of the scene’s brightest stars at their most intimate moments. Watching Siouxsie Sioux and her bandmates sorting out their vitamin tablets or seeing members of The Clash and The Slits playing about on their tour bus reminds the viewer that, for all their rudeness and cocksure attitude, British punk was still a scene composed almost entirely of kids out for a good time. Yet they were bristling with energy and frustration, releasing their anger in a flurry of white noise and street slogans.

In the thirty years since The Punk Rock Movie, Don Letts has become one of the foremost punk rock historians. Much like the bands he filmed, his experience has allowed him to expand on his talents and create a slew of well-loved films and music videos. The Punk Rock Movie, however, is as thrilling and visceral as any of the first generation British punks that it documents. As the director himself once said, “It was all so new, I realised it wasn't about being just a fan, it was about getting involved.” This film applauds those who may not have found chart success, but who were willing to do more than sit on the sidelines.

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